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Cuban delegation prepares for WYD 'with great hope'

Tense relations between Church and state left many in doubt of attending

<p>The Cathedral of Havana (Kamira/Shutterstock)</p>

The Cathedral of Havana (Kamira/Shutterstock)

  • Ezra Fieser, Santo Domingo (Catholic News Service)
  • International
  • July 18, 2013
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At the age of 24, Meylan Legorburo had never left Cuba and never expected she would.

Yet, on July 15 the social researcher and 47 other young Cubans were on their way to Jose Marti International Airport outside of Havana to board a flight for Brazil, where they planned to take part in World Youth Day. 

The international celebration, which begins in Rio de Janeiro July 23, is a monumental moment for young Catholics. This year's event, which 2.5 million people are expected to attend, will also mark Pope Francis' first international trip. 

But the event is especially sweet for the 55-member Cuban delegation, which includes four priests, Bishop Alvaro Beyra Luarca of Bayamo, two nuns and 48 young Catholics. 

Strained church-state relations have left even pious Catholics, such as Legorburo, with little hope of taking part in such gatherings. And only recently did Cuba's communist government ease travel restrictions, removing much of the time-consuming red tape and allowing some residents to travel with just a passport. 

"I never even had a passport before this," Legorburo said in a telephone interview with Catholic News Service. "I never thought that I would travel, much less receive a gift such as this."

The church is covering all costs, which amounted to about $1,800 per person, said Sister Susana Maria Moreno, who helped to organize the delegation for the Cuban bishops' conference. 

"The Cuban delegation is small compared to other countries," she said, "but our young people are going with great hope." 

Bishop Beyra, president of the Cuban bishops' youth ministry commission, led a delegation to World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011. Cuban young people also attended World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008 and Rome in 2000. In 2002, about 200 young Cubans went to World Youth Day in Toronto, and 23 defected.

In an interview with a Spanish-language website, Bishop Beyra said securing the funding to send the delegation was the most difficult step. International church agencies donated the money. 

At least two young people from each of the island's 11 dioceses were selected as well as various representatives of religious orders. 

Full story: Cuban young people leave for World Youth Day 'with great hope'

Source: Catholic News Service

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